My wife Marcella and I have recently become empty nesters and we knew that this would mean being able to travel away together a lot more. What we hadn’t anticipated was that our first holiday without our daughters would be one that would be hard to beat! Our good friend Scott Edkins from Ascot Tours arranged a private hire of Rovos Rail for a golf safari in South Africa and having had my eye on this amazing luxury train and golfing adventure for a few years we decided to join Scott’s inaugural Rovos trip.
Having had a wonderful start to our holiday with my cousin and her lovely family in Jo’burg Marcella and I headed off north to Rovos Rail’s private station in Pretoria. With the jacaranda trees all in bloom and the sun shining bright I was delighted to be back in Africa and was eagerly anticipating what lay ahead of us.
On arrival I was delighted to meet up with Werner from Ascot Tours and his fiancé Jenna who I had met previously when out on my last African golf adventure. Our bags were whisked away and we were taken into the cool colonial lounge and enjoyed what was not going to be the last glass of bubbly that week whilst getting to meet our fellow travellers! After a short briefing of what to expect we crossed the elegant platform and boarded the train.
We were staying in one of the Royal Suites and the room certainly exceeded our expectations, large and spacious with a huge bed, free standing bath and with its wonderful old fashioned ambience we knew it was going to be a special week. We joined the group in the lounge and we enjoyed pre dinner drinks before going back and getting dressed up for dinner. The four course dinner was superb with expert advice regarding the accompanying wines provided by the friendly and highly trained staff. The rest of the week on the train was thoroughly enjoyable even though it was seriously damaging to the waistline.
We were lucky to be sharing this amazing trip with a wonderful bunch of people from around the globe including from Belgium (including my new Belgium ‘cousin’ Reine whose maiden name is Marais), Poland, Switzerland, UK, Netherlands, South Africa, Russia, Marcella from Ireland and me from Zimbabwe. With regards to the golf I was fortunate to play with some lovely people and had a lot of fun on the golf courses and was in the winning team on the first three days. In the overall completion for the week I came in second – probably due to being more used to playing in the heat on dry courses (and not being scared to go into the bush after wayward drives!).
Our four rounds of golf:
Legends Golf Course and the Extreme 19th: The golf at Legends was disappointing as the condition of the course was substandard, particularly the fairways which in places was virtually non-existent in parts due to years of drought. Whilst the course wasn’t great I really enjoyed being out with my old friend Cedric plus the relaxed and good fun pair of Graham and Kevin. Fortunately having the Extreme 19th as part of the day was a redeeming factor and an experience I’m sure which everyone will remember (even though I’d be happy if they forget I took a 14!).
Zebula Golf Course: Whilst Zebula was also suffering due to the drought the tee boxes, and approaches to the greens and the greens themselves were in super condition. I again shared a buggy with Cedric and we were joined with Dariusz and Joanna. Joanna had struggled the day before but really found her game whilst Cedric found a lie behind virtually every tree on the course. The company was great and we all enjoyed the course which is well designed and is a good layout in the African savannah.
Lost City Course, Sun City: After growing up in Southern Africa and having had many, many holidays back out there the one place I had never been to was Sun City so I was delighted that this was on the itinerary. Originally we were meant to play the Gary Player Country Club course but due to preparation work for the Nedbank Challenge, this was changed to the Lost City course. To be honest this was a very fortunate change as it would have been no fun for many of our group having to cope with walking the extremely long and very difficult Gary Player CC course in very high temperatures (buggies are not allowed). The Lost City course is a superb layout and was in great condition. Marcella had decided that she had enough time on safari and joined the golfers and we paired up with Marc and Karine from Belgium who were out on honeymoon! I had one of those very strange days were I played badly but scored well – the luck went my way all day… Marcella came close to a hole in one and we all had a lot of laughs and enjoyed our time out on a course that I now hold in very high regard.
Leopard Creek Golf Club Leopard Creek: has been on my bucket list for many years, every November or December I watch the Alfred Dunhill Championship on the TV and my homesickness for Africa rapidly builds. The combination of the dry African bushveld, green fairways with superb finishing holes ending at the lake in front of a stunning thatched clubhouse really push all my buttons. So when I was lucky enough to play with Marcella, Marc and Karine I was in golfing heaven but unfortunately after 11 holes I had only scored 7 points and whilst thoroughly enjoying the day my short game was in turmoil.
Fortunately I managed to get myself going and scored another 13 points on the final 7 holes. The course is very good throughout but the final holes are superb, lots of risk and reward whilst enjoying amazing views over the Crocodile River and Kruger National Park. I ended up lipping out for a birdie on the iconic 18th with its island green.. almost the perfect end to a wonderful day in great company. Overall the group found scoring tough and Marc was the top scorer with 27 points and worked hard for them. Do yourself a favour and get out to South Africa and play this course – African golf at it’s very best!
The whole experience was superb with very little to grumble about bearing in mind that this was the inaugural trip and I believe some tweaks to the itinerary could be made to improve it. It was wonderful to share time with so many interesting and friendly people but as the train had large comfortable lounges and a super open-air seating area at the rear there was always space to just sit and relax on your own. The train was not continually moving and when it was I found the movement pleasant particularly when lying in bed getting rocked to sleep. The non-golfers got to enjoy a lot of time on safari in vastly different regions and on the final day saw 44 rhino – something I’ve never heard of before! Tim Carr, a very experienced game guide was on the trip, he has extensive knowledge about the wildlife as well as the history of the region and willingly shared this with the group. The food throughout the week was excellent and the waiting staff were all really friendly, polite, knowledgeable and very attentive. Now that the rains have arrived in South Africa I’m sure the quality of the fairways at the first two courses will be in far better condition, having had years of drought they have really suffered. Golf on the Lost City at Sun City and at Leopard Creek was superb and having had Marcella play during these two rounds really made these the highlight of my holiday.
Memorable moments worth noting!
- Hitting balls off a cliff down to the green on the Extreme 19th – this was my third time enjoying what has to be the ultimate unique golfing experience
- Lying in a bath watching the African wilderness go by whilst enjoying a cold beer
- Merrick the barman’s dry wit and sharp sense of humour
- Enjoying time in the company of likeminded people from many different nations – I hope our invitations to visit Belfast and play golf in much greener conditions are taken up…we need the company as the house is too quiet for me without our girls!
- A cold beer and quick dip in the pool at Sun City to cool off after a hot day looking for wayward drives in the ‘bundu’
- The finishing stretch of holes at Leopard Creek which are as good as it gets, I just wish I’d just nailed the birdie putt on the 18th….
- Getting quality time with my wonderful wife….time to start planning our next adventure….
We would be delighted to talk you through your own tailor made Rovos Rail or African holiday be it golf, safari or both!